The phrase “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” held true to its well-earned spot in 1970’s and 1980’s society. With a new, looser culture, explicit music, raunchy and rambunctious movies as well as a societal focus on many things immoral, it was an era of challenging social norms. As the use of recreational and psychoactive drugs, as well as alcohol, increased, a new problem arose; how does law enforcement and the government undo the damage being made by this new society? Laws were passed, bureaus and commissions were formed, and the President of the United States began what he called “The War on Drugs”.
Over the years, some of these solutions have proven to make some impact. The initiation, tactics, and attempts at dealing a major blow to drug abuse have all affected the way America sees drugs today. A new type of warfare had made its way into the country, and after all these years, it has made its fair share of positive and negative effects. “Just say no. ” (Reagan Declares War on Drugs, 1982). This was one of the many scare tactics used in America’s new war on drugs. The president needed to construct a plan to detract the public eye from drugs’ fame.
Nancy Reagan was equally as adamant about keeping America safe and clean. She traveled to and spoke at many schools, enforcing the idea of simply refusing the temptation of drugs. Before the Reagan’s began their wartime, Richard Nixon introduced his own ‘war’ on drugs, stating, “America’s public enemy number one is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new, all-out offensive. ” (Remarks About an Intensified Program for Drug Abuse Prevention, 1971).
This mindset was yet another strategy used to make America energized and willing to fight this war. Nixon passed the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act in the 1970’s as a way to keep a constant eye on the drug industry. This act required the pharmaceutical industry to maintain physical security and strict record keeping for certain types of drugs. When Reagan became president he gave a speech, announcing, “We are taking down the surrender flag that has flown over so many drug efforts; we’re running up a battle flag. ” (Reagan’s ‘War on Drugs’ Speech, 1981).
America’s first clear attack on the use of drugs was verbal – this strategy temporarily affected the country, but more had to be done to combat this enemy. The United States and its’ presidents had to take a fighting stance if they wanted to decrease drug abuse. One of the first instances of this was President Nixon’s Operation Intercept. Announced even before the official ‘war’ on drugs began – in September 1969 – this campaign focused on reducing the amount of cannabis entering the United States from Mexico. Following this effort, the United States government funded the controversial Methadone Maintenance Program.
Methadone Maintenance treatment, a program in which addicted individuals receive daily doses of methadone, was developed as part of a broad, multicomponent treatment program. ” (Center for Disease Control, 2002). After Nixon’s trials and failures, President Carter went at the fight with a different, looser approach. Carter called for the decriminalization of marijuana. With a less vicious outlook, Carter believed that the punishment of a crime should not be more brutal than that said crime. President Carter’s tactic proved unworthy, as while he was in office, use of cocaine increased dramatically.
Finally, as Reagan took center stage and stepped into presidential office, he kept a strong belief against this criminal act. Reagan created the Office of National Drug Control Policy to eradicate illicit drug use, manufacturing and trafficking of drugs, as well as put an end to drug related violence and crimes. Reagan put policies in place to strengthen his deadly grasp on drug-ridden society. He required mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug dealers – a policy he initiated in hopes of making drugs seem less glamorous and infinitely more criminal.
He began the South Florida Task Force, which dealt with the increase of drug trafficking in Southern Florida. This force worked hand in hand with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). Operation Swordfish was put in place by the DEA to attack international drug organizations. “The operation was dubbed operation swordfish because it was intended to snare the ‘big fish’ in drug trade. ” (Drug Enforcement Agency, Operation Swordfish, 1980). Vice President George H. W. Bush began insisting that the CIA and U. S. Military become involved in drug interdiction efforts.
The Drug-Free Media Campaign Act of 1988 was passed in hopes to convince America’s youth and future generations to stray away from drugs. After all of these battles, did America finally win this war? “The U. S. Federal Government spent over $15 billion in 2010 on the War on Drugs, a rate of about $500 per second. ” (The Budgetary Impact of Drug Prohibition, 2010). This is a sign that perhaps Reagan’s War on Drugs wasn’t quite as effective as he had so hoped. The United States today has the highest incarceration rate and prison population of any country in the world.
This is provided in part by the amount of arrests and incarcerations due to drug sentencing guidelines and policies. “In the 1980’s, while the number of arrests for all crimes had risen by 28%, the number of arrests for drug offenses rose 126%. ” (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2010). This did not specifically mean that there were more drug-related crimes, but that law enforcement had simply cracked down on the arrests of said crimes. In comparison, Time Magazine’s study states, “Drug convictions went from 15 inmates per 100,000 adults in 1980 to 148 in 1996, an almost tenfold increase.
More than half of America’s federal inmates today are in prison on drug convictions. In 2009 alone, 1. 66 million Americans were arrested on drug charges…” (Time Magazine, 2012). While this war on drugs may still be in effect, it may have positive outcomes for further in the future. As for the time being, America has two main stances on the subject: some call for further reparations in the war on drugs, while others believe the war is unsuccessful, and the focus needs to be shifted to more important and dire issues. The War on Drugs has failed. ” (19 Member Commission, June 2, 2011). In another instance, a poll was taken throughout the country, and its results, “three in four Americans believe that the War on Drugs is failing. ” (October 2008 Poll). Suggestions of decriminalization have been made by many. The legalization of drugs is claimed to have many positive effects on the country as a whole, including positive economic effects.
While this ‘war’ on drugs started off as a full-fledged attack on all users and distributors of illegal narcotics, it seems to have transformed into a war against itself: will continuing these attacks help the country, or will allowing certain, less harmful drugs to be legal prove to be a more reasonable solution? “Legalizing drugs would save taxpayers $76. 8 billion a year in the United States – $44. 1 billion from law enforcement savings, and at least $32. 7 billion in tax revenue…” (Harvard Study by Jeffrey A. Miron, 2008). In addition, the policies put into effect by Nixon and Reagan may ave had a positive impact on crime in the United States, but it may not have been in the way they had wished.
“Drugs got enormously cheaper so users didn’t have to hit as many old ladies over the head and steal their pocketbooks. ” (Travis Wendel, “More Drugs, Less Crime”, 2010). Murders, robberies and other violent crimes seemed to decline as the price of drugs went down – could this happen if drugs were legalized as well? America in this day and age has a vast amount of governmental and international issues in desperate need of resolution – is drug control still one of them?
The United States of America is a country known by many as ‘land of the free’, but does this mean that its citizens should be allowed to participate in activities such as drug use with such a negative connotation? Did Reagan’s War on Drugs really make an effective impact on the way America sees drugs today? The answer to that question is this – while his tactics may not have worked the way he had desired, America as a whole has indeed seen less drug related crime. This does not mean it does not exist, nor does it mean that by legalizing drugs will solve all of the country’s problems.
What this does mean is that Reagan’s war on drugs did not put an end to drug use, but it just may have opened America’s eyes to more clear and present danger. While drugs are in no way going to solve America’s problems, the once War on Drugs may now need to be adjusted to a name more fitting. A War on Crime as a whole perhaps? A War on Drug Related Violence? Reagan had the correct idea, now the country can put it into proper use. His War was not an end all war, but it just may have been enough to enhance America as a whole.
Courtney from Study Moose
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